OK, let me apologize in advance to all of the Oklahoma City readers. I'm not going to do a fantastic job of previewing your team today. I know it's not your fault. I know you just took what was offered like any city would. I know you deserve better. We play each other again next week and I promise I'll do a whiz-bang job of covering the Thunder then. But this is the first time the Thunder and Blazers have met and let me tell you, we're going to dance tonight and though the arms will be around you, I'll be thinking about the Sonics the whole time. Sorry. That makes me a lousy date.
In a better world--a world with a little more fairness to, and happier endings for, the little guy--this would be the first meeting of the season between the Blazers and Supersonics. That didn't evoke the same kind of anticipation as a L*kers-Blazers meeting but those Portland-Seattle games always seemed a little harder-fought than the average. Bill Walton versus Jack Sikma...Jerome Kersey versus Xavier McDaniel...Clyde Drexler pounding the crap out of Dale Ellis on a regular basis after the media started suggesting Ellis might be a better player in '88-‘89. There would be a chance of hearing Kevin Calabro--one of the finest voices and announcers in league history--calling the game on the dish. Portland fans would be making the trek up. In good years for the Blazers you could maybe see (or more importantly hear) a couple thousand of them in Key Arena. Sure, the place was kind of a pit in both literal and figurative senses, but when you heard the crowd cheering every basket by either team because it was made up of folks from both cities, the place took on a life of its own. Sometimes you couldn't tell whose home it was.
It's hard not to feel a little cheated as a Portland fan. We're going to miss out on the really visceral part of the Oden-Durant wars. It's still hard for me not to feel aching empathy for Seattle fans. Yes, I know there was bad blood. But that's part of what is missing now! How do you have bad blood with the Oklahoma City Thunder? "Your...your...your music scene is inferior and your cars less gas efficient! So there!" It's just not the same. It was a privilege to have that bad blood, to hate somebody, to want to whip the tar out of them every time you met and send them crying back up I-5. (Or, alternatively, to whip them at their joint and then gloat for the entire freeway trip.) How do you get a Yellow Hummer incident between OKC and Portland? The stash would never last.
I'm not sorry Oklahoma City has a team. I just wish it were a legitimate expansion team. There would be a sense of something new and fresh there. "Wow...the Thunder! Interesting!" instead of, "Jesus. The Thunder? Really?"
Maybe people have passed on after half of a season. But I'm from Portland and I grew up with these teams. I remember. It just doesn't seem right to let the occasion pass as if nothing had happened and as if everything is just as good. It's not.
I'll get over it. I'll move on. You have to. As soon as the ball tips on the first real game between us it'll be business as usual and it will remain that way from then on. But that doesn't mean business is the same. And that doesn't mean it was right. It only seemed appropriate to remember that.
As far as the actual game, here you go in brief.
--The Thunder are every, single bit of their 11-38 record. Utah, Detroit, and Toronto have been their big wins of the season. Adding to their win total is like getting hit by an airplane while lying on a runway. You had to climb a barbed-wire fence plastered with warning signs, walk half a mile, and ignore a ton of lights and noise to get there. It was your fault.
--Pretty much the only areas where the Thunder crack the top half of the league are free throws attempted and rebounding. The Blazers will have to be a little careful to win the board battle tonight if they want the game to be easy.
--They don't attempt many threes and they turn the ball over a lot. That's pretty much a recipe for pressure defense by the Blazers.
--The big names to watch are also the obvious ones: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Even though those two attack at positions of vulnerability the Blazers have been pretty good at containing teams that rely heavily on one or two players.
--The Thunder like to score about a billion points. Only 4 of their wins have come when scoring under 100. The general idea is to take out one of their scoring legs and then let their loose, turnover-prone style generate enough points for you to outscore them.
--As far as the Blazers go, as we discussed on the podcast today 6-1 is the target for the next 7 games. 5-2 would probably be acceptable. 4-3 is a disaster. That means a win tonight is a must. There's no excuse not to take this one...not even that I didn't do an actual preview and took the win for granted. Tonight even that shouldn't be enough. If the Blazers don't come out with energy and dominate with an eye to greasing their run towards the playoffs, shame on them. I know the Thunder have played some close games lately, but still...no excuses. Dominate, make it easy, go home with a 2-1 trip under your belts.
Check out the new and bubbly WelcometoLoudCity for the OKC point of view.
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